October 27, 2010 | By Bethany Murphy
Heritage's Plan to Reform Congress
The midterm elections are now exactly a week away. And these elections could transform the way that government in Washington runs.
The Heritage Foundation doesn’t have a dog in any of the election fights. As a non-partisan organization, we are in the unique position of being able to hold members of both parties accountable to uphold conservative values and principles.
Heritage has developed a plan that could help make congressmen more accountable to the people that elected them. If enacted, this Heritage proposal would change what elections cannot: how Congress itself is run. A shakeup of Congress’ internal structure could help newly-elected conservatives get a hearing for their ideas.
We have four major recommendations that both parties should implement before November 15, when new committee members will be chosen.
· The steering committee, rather than party leaders, should select all committee chairmen and members.
· Party leaders should no longer dominate or control the steering committee. This would allow rank-and-file Representatives to nominate and elect the controlling votes on each steering committee.
· Term limits should apply to all House and party leaders, including the Speaker, as well as to committee chairmen and ranking members.
· A cap should be placed on the overall size of each committee—such as a 50-member maximum—to avoid scenarios where committees wield a disproportionate amount of influence over the House.
“Over the last several decades, legislative branch authority has become overly concentrated into the hands of a few select leaders of the majority party,” Heritage experts Ernest Istook, Matthew Spalding and Michael Franc argue, “rather than the decentralized lawmaking body that is more consistent with its constitutional responsibilities.”
What does this mean? Because Congressional leaders often require that their members to vote in a bloc, lobbyists and members of the executive branch only need to convince a few Congressmen of the merits of the bill before it is voted on.
Currently, party leaders choose committee chairmen, who have enormous power to shape legislation. Changing the way committee chairmen are chosen is just one important step in reforming the way that Washington operates on a day-to-day basis.
Heritage’s proposal is a useful guide to how the House can be made more responsive to public opinion. By diluting the authority of party leaders, the reforms could create a less partisan Congress. This, in turn, could allow lawmakers to more easily seek solutions across party lines, as they would be less beholden to party leaders. Bringing fresh faces to Washington may change the appearance of Congress, but structural changes will change Congress’ performance – for the better.
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Bethany Murphy is a writer for MyHeritage.org—a website for members and supporters of The Heritage Foundation. Nathaniel Ward; Amanda Reinecker and Andrew Vitaliti, a Heritage intern, contributed to this report.